After two soul-scouring days, I couldn’t think of anything better for my mental well-being than reaching for Yen Press’ translation of K-ON, Volume 1.
There are so many things to like about K-ON! and really, only a few things not to like, so let’s get those out of the way first.
If you like your manga to have *meaning* and significance and plot and other IMPORTANT things, then K-ON! will be a disappointment to you. It’s a 4-koma, which means it’s a comic strip, meant to be superficial amusement. Like the cake Mugi serves, it’s refreshment, not nutrition.
And there is service. Of course there is service. For the same reason that western female action stars wear service-y clothes or pose provocatively, there are maid costumes and panty shots because that is what is expected by the largely male Japanese audience. For those of us not so sad as to require glimpses of underwear to make a series good, there is, at least, not very much service. This series mostly confines service in later volumes to pin-up chapter splash page art and a few silly dress-up scenes.
That’s it for the downside. On the upside is a biggie – this is a 4-koma comic strip that is actually *funny.* It made me laugh out loud a number of times. More importantly than humor though, it’s fun, entertaining, it makes me smile. In fact, that would be a good summation of the series – it makes me smile.
For the three of you who aren’t familiar with K-ON!, the story follows the daily life and club activities of the keionbu, the Light Music Club, (here translated as the Pop Music Club, a choice that is ably justified in the Translation notes) and the members thereof – flaky club president and drummer Ritsu, bubble-headed lead guitarist Yui, rich girl Tsumugi on keyboards, and bassist, lyricist and dysfunctionally shy Mio. The fact that they are all reasonably talented and Yui approaches idiot-savant levels of skill is the handwave we accept to make the story work. Added to the mix is the incredibly funny all by herself club advisor and homeroom teacher, Sawa-chan-sensei, whose secret makes me laugh every time they drag it out.
What made the anime stand out is the extra-super-duper bubblegum-pop stickyness of the music. There’s just no way to get Fuwa Fuwa Time out of one’s head once one has heard it. in fact, the only CD I bought this time in Japan was the double CD Studio Mix/Cassette Mix of K-ON! songs、Houkago Tea Time II. I just adore how loopy the songs are.
What makes the manga a fun read is – everything. Ritsu’s flakiness, Mio’s teasable personality, Mugi’s play-along mentality and Yui’s bubble-headedness. But I admit to a special fondness for Mugi – not just because her fantasies are the sole Yuri in the first volume, but because she’s she so ready to do whatever the silliest, most-fun, least-responsible thing suggested is. She’s always game for…whatever. Mugi is my favorite character.
I suppose I should spend a moment reviewing Yen’s production. It’s very good. The only visible difference is the paper. Glossy color vs matte color pages just isn’t an issue to me. In every way this presentation holds up to the original. The *only* thing Yen does that sort of jars has nothing to do with the production value at all. They present translation notes in a left-to-right format, but put the pages in a schizoid order, so that they are neither really right-to-left or left-to-right. Reading from the Left, they are Page 3-4-1-2 and reading from the Right they are laid out 2-1-4-3, neither of which works. I understand that when the book is held open it’s 1-2, then turn the page to 3-4, but it’s really schizoid when you consider it from a larger perspective. Again, not a complaint, just something of note.
Detractors insist that the characters don’t seem real, or that there’s nothing to the story or that they just don’t see the appeal. All of these are completely valid, but I have to say that I have rarely watched or read a series that reminded me of my days in band in high school. K-ON! reminds me quite a bit of the best of those days.
Art – 7
Characters – 10
Story – 9
Yuri – 3 for “Mugi-vision”
Service – 3 for the whole underwear thing, but other than that, it’s probably more like a 1
Overall – 9
I LOVED the Music Theory 101 on the last pages. A nice, friendly touch to end a nice, friendly volume with the ladies of Afterschool Tea Time.
Thanks very much to Yen Press for allowing me an advance look at this volume. It was the best thing I’ve read in days by far and away. ^_^